Pancakes and Coral

Sleep is once again eluding me. Despite a week now with no alcohol and care taken with what I eat, I am struggling to sleep well. On the anchor at Burnett Heads, I had two terrible nights, and failed to do any catching up during the day. So on departure at 6 am on Monday, I was almost comatose and only just managed to go through my checklist of going to sea items. As soon as the sails were up and we were settled, I headed down to try to catch up on sleep, but to no avail. Fortunately we had a relatively straightforward run on the 68 miles north to Pancake Creek, so Pete, who never has a problem sleeping, was happy to be on deck.

We made good time, despite my tiredness and dropped anchor at beautiful Pancake Creek at around 3 pm. There were a couple of other boats in the outer anchorage, but enough room not to be too close. In fact we were comfortably far enough away, that we decided to have a shower on the back deck, though that may have been our smell winning over the proximity to other vessels! We both felt better after a shower and Pete even felt like a dark and stormy, but I persevered with the no grog theory and had a cup of tea.

Sunsets were again on the menu after a day largely clear of clouds, and Pancake Creek never disappoints. As the sun was setting, Pete prepped our chicken curry so we could have an early dinner and an early night, and over dinner we checked the forecast and decided we would head off to Lady Musgrave in the morning. Of course to arrive with the sun overhead, we needed to be there around midday, which meant another 6 am start to cover the 38 miles. So I went off to bed at 8, and did manage to sleep a little better for the first part of the night.

The alarm was superfluous as we were both awake at 5:30, and we got on with the tasks of preparing to weigh anchor and get ready for sea. After yesterday’s jamming of the anchor chain, we decided we would definitely lay the chain to 20 meters, and this meant we had no issue with the anchor retrieval at all. I then did circles while Pete closed the anchor well bulkhead, reattached the spinnaker pole and got the main halyard on. I preferred my job at 6 am! We then headed out to sea and set course for Lady Musgrave Island, on a close reach, using just the heady. We got along very nicely at about 7 knots, with great timing for an arrival just about midday.

We arrived at Musgrave at the same time as a large catermeran, but he didn’t seem keen to attempt the lagoon entrance. We also passed about 3 yachts anchored outside the lagoon, so wondered what was up. Pete caught a radio conversation between a yacht inside and one out, which didn’t indicate any problems other than a bit of a chop at high water (around 6 pm) so we decided to head in. Whilst the entrance is much wider than Fitzroy, there are shallower patches, and because we were close to low water there was a huge ebb coming through the gap, with boiling pools as it hit the deeper water outside. However, it was of course super clear, which made my job as spotter on the bow much easier.

As we turned into the approach, Pete put the engine revs up and gunned it in. At one point about half way through, it felt like we were stationary against the current. Pete later told me we had over 7 knots of boat speed but were only doing 2 knots over the ground! It felt like it took half an hour to get through the entrance channel, but actually it was less than 5 minutes and once we were in the lagoon, it was easy. We were easily able to avoid key bommies as they were largely exposed, and there was heaps more room and depth than Fitzroy. We saw between 7 and 8 meters all the way to the spot we anchored, and few problematic coral patches. Whilst we dropped the anchor on sand, the chain snagged slightly on a small rock outcrop, so once we settled, Pete went in to check both anchor and chain. He moved the chain from under the rock, and we decided we should monitor this as we didn’t want to get caught with the chain jammed, come time to leave.

We both swam, but as the breeze was quite strong there was a fair surface current so I stayed close to the boat. The lagoon waters are a crystal clear azure, and you can see right down to the sand with ease. I could even see clearly just by opening my eyes under the water! It was truly like paradise. After a late lunch, we took The Goon Bag in to the island to see what was there. We knew there was camping allowed and a light house so we thought we would have a look around. There is a secondary lagoon close to the island with a buoyed channel to the beach, which we were able to follow with ease, and we tied to a coral rock, just above the waterline.

Lady Musgrave is a coral cay, so the waterline is coral rubble, then you have fine white coral sand, then a surprising layer of what looks to be good peat, out of which the thriving vegetation grows. There is a substantial pisonia forest, as well as casuarina and pandanus, and some grass. The bird life is of course prolific, and whilst we are not here at the best time, there were plenty of rails, terns and wading birds. We walked through the pisonia forest to the camp ground, which is by permit only. You have to bring everything with you including water and cooking fuel. There is no fresh water on the island and no campfires allowed. You also have to take all rubbish away with you. The camp ground is on the leeward side of the island and close to the beach and the northern fringing reef. A gorgeous and remote location to camp, with fantastic exploring on the reef and in the lagoon.

We returned to the dinghy and headed black to the boat for a cup of tea and afternoon nap, and at sunset, we opened a bottle of sparkling in honour of being in such a fantastic location! Unfortunately the beautiful evening was marred by a massive rice bubble cruiser who had to put on not only colour flow pimp lights, but blue stripe lights up his side deck.

light pollution

We BBQd some excellent beef burgers from The Butcher and the Chef in Manly, and then had an early night, both still being tired after our Pancake Creek night, and this time I had a good sleep.

Waking early next morning, the wind had abated and blue sky was abundant. We had coffee and breakfast then put cameras and snorkel gear into The Goon Bag and headed into the island. As we landed we saw several turtles close to the beach, though couldn’t get near to photograph them. We walked all the way round the island, and Pete checked out the light house, which is more of a bulb on a scaffold than a house! Again we marvelled at the bird life which was abundant. We met up with Keith and Julie from a lovely power cruiser called Ionian Sea, and chatted to them about cruising, Julie highly recommended we visit the Orpheus islands and Palm Islands when we get up that way, beyond Townsville.

From the beach, we headed to the outer edge of the beach lagoon and spent an hour snorkelling from The Goon Bag. The coral is good, but it’s the fish that make it incredible here. So many varieties in so many colours, shapes and sizes, it makes it hard to stop even when you are cold from being submerged too long! We headed back to WDS for a cup of tea and a biscuit, to get warm again, and Pete went off for an explore in the rib while I relaxed. We had a sandwich when he got back, then departed for more snorkelling.

There was a really large bommy about 300 m away from us, so we went to check it out. We then went out to the edge of the lagoon and explored, but found it too shallow with too many bumps. Exploring several bommies, we found one with a nice shallow sand patch on its leeward side and dropped The Goon Bags anchor. Pete was in first and said I shouldn’t bother getting in cos there was noting to see! Of course it was amazing. The coral was better here than our morning location, but there were even more fish, and loads of iridescent blue coloured fish. There were tiny ones hanging around coral fronds, and larger ones swimming in schools. Huge pipe fish hung on the bottom of the drop off, colour changing to blend with their background, and rainbow coloured wrasse hung lower down the drop off. We slowly snorkelled all the way around the bommie, just enjoying the huge variety of fish and coral. After about 40 minutes we were chilled enough to stop and head back to The Goon Bag, but once out of the water, we found the breeze had gone to nothing and we soon warmed up. We headed back towards the large bommie closer to WDS and coasted along its edge with a clear view down to the bottom through the glassed out water. We watched a couple of turtles and could even see small fish, then the ominous shape of a shark. It was about a meter long, white tipped reef shark, which momentarily put us off going in again. We overcame any worries pretty quickly and dropped in again for more fantastic coral and fish, but this time only staying in for about 30 minutes.

Satiate with underwater viewing, we finally made our way back to WDS, and conditions were so still we decided to load the Goon Bag on deck ready for our trip back to Bundy in the morning. This completed, I headed back into the oh so clear and warm water, and scrubbed the waterline of the boat, as it was looking a little dirty. I didn’t need to dive to see that both rudder and keel were pristine, with no growth apparent! Pete checked the anchor again, and we looked to be clear of the rock, but as evening started to fall, the breeze shifted east then north.

We had sunset drinks because it was such a fabulous still evening and then had a lovely BBQ dinner of Butcher and Chef Manly, stuffed chicken thighs (thanks Tom) with salad. Whilst the chook was cooking, we turned off all our lights and lay on the dinghy in the bow, just marvelling at all the stars. It was a completely clear night, and the only disruption to our viewing were the anchor lights of the other boats in the lagoon. We spotted two satellites and a number of shooting stars, as well as the Milky Way and countless stars. We did the same after dinner, considering ourselves the luckiest couple in the world to have scored this fantastic day in such a pristine and beautiful environment.

We woke with the sunrise as the cabin filled with golden light well before our alarm! This meant we had done a complete circle during the night and our line looked shorter on our anchor watch. We suspected the chain had wrapped around the pesky rock, and Petes early morning swim confirmed this. After a quick coffee, we motored around the rock with some extra chain out, and this seemed to do the trick. As it was about 7:30, and we wanted to head out as close to slack high water as possible, we prepared for sea, then brought up the anchor. Thanks to good preparation, we had no issues in the retrieval, and were on track to exit the lagoon at 8 am. Exit was a lot more straightforward than entry. We were at high water, or just after, so following our low water entry route meant we would have good depth all the way. Because the sun was still pretty low, my visual of the bottom was not so good until we turned into the channel, but we had plenty of depth and a small amount of tidal assist apart from a spot just past the second starboard marker where depth went to about 6.5 m. The rest was closer to 10 m almost the whole way out. Once in 15 m we were clear of hazards and could get Otto working, while we had breakfast. We checked in with VMR Bundaberg to let them know we were on our way in, with an ETA of 5 pm, and settled in to a day of motoring and fishing.

And late in the afternoon, it was a successful fishing day, when Pete landed a massive Spanish mackerel!  I really looked forward to a fishy weekend as Pete headed back to Sydney for work. Who knows, when he gets back, I will probably look like the fish I have been living off!

Catch of the day – or make that the trip!

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